HUNTINGTON - It is no secret that the key for Marshall University's defense in the 2019 football season is how well the linebacker position comes together after the graduation of several key contributors.
And while Marshall defensive assistant Brad Lambert has a tall task in teaching younger players the scheme, it is not expected that chemistry will be an issue with two of the key replacements. Tavante Beckett and Jaquan Yulee know each other's game about as well as they know their own.
Almost on cue, as Beckett started talking about his spring practice performance Saturday, over walked Yulee to put his arm around his teammate and join in the conversation.
"My guy," Yulee yelled.
"That's my boy," Beckett said with a big smile.
On Saturday, both Beckett and Yulee took turns making big plays, which has become the norm for the Thundering Herd defense this spring as they join returning starter Omari Cobb at the second level.
Marshall's 2019 spring practices aren't the first time Beckett and Yulee have been on the field together.
The Chesapeake, Virginia, natives were standouts on the 2015 Indian River High School team after Beckett's transfer to Indian River in the summer prior to their senior high school season.
Beckett said that familiarity has helped as he returns to live action for the first time in more than two years.
"It's been years off feeding off each other," Beckett said. "When I make a big play or a big hit, I know who to turn to that's going to get me excited and I know that, when I need lifted and woken up, he's going to go make that play to wake me up. We've been doing that for years together, so that's nothing new."
It wasn't always a family feeling for Beckett and Yulee, who were fierce rivals prior to Beckett joining Indian River's program in 2015.
Prior to that transfer, Beckett was a standout at Oscar Smith High School while Yulee was the standout at Indian River and their egos hit about as hard as they did. According to a 2015 article in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, that similarity in demeanor and 'Alpha-dog' mentality is what eventually made them good friends.
"I've known about him since middle school, but we got together senior year and played one year together," Beckett said. "That's all we needed together for that chemistry. We ended up back together, so it's working out beautifully."
Lambert said the chemistry they share has helped to push each other to new heights and also letting them grow within the scheme together.
"It really helps because they are so close - not only on the field, but off the field," Lambert said. "They went to high school together, so they know each other really well and it's been good for Beckett because he hasn't played in our system, but Yulee has. They are really working well together out there."
While Lambert had some idea of what Yulee brought to the table, this spring has been his first chance to see Beckett. The veteran coach raved about the play making ability of the 5-foot-10, 222-pound redshirt junior.
There is still plenty to grasp, according to Lambert, but the potential can be seen.
"He's got to be a guy that just plays right now because he hasn't played in our system," Lambert said. "It'll just keep getting better for him, and he makes a lot of plays. Even when he makes a mistake, he's still productive. He's got great change of direction, great eyes and is a good tackler, so we've been really pleased with the progress he's making."
Beckett, who hasn't played in live action since his true freshman season at Virginia Tech in 2016, said spring practice is important for his growth because each day out is another day he gets re-acclimated to the speed of the game.
"For real, it's just getting back out there and getting a feel for the game," Beckett said. "It's been a couple years, so it's getting back to live motion and getting live reps. That's why (Saturday) was so important. On Saturdays, when we were out here scrimmaging and getting live reps, I have to make the most of it."